12-13-16 : Burgers
I had previously thought the proposition preposterous, but maybe the removal of trans-fats from New York IS necessary. People are eating too many burgers! I opened the New York Times Dining Out/In section today, and on the second page, the “Off the Menu” column is headed “Burgers, Burgers, Burgers.” It mentioned two new restaurants, one is basely called BRGR, and the other, Burgers & Cupcakes (sickly, I’ll bet this second one will be hugely successful).
Even world-class chefs at the height of the culinary avant-garde are putting burgers on their menus. Wasn’t it Daniel Boulud who recently made infamous the $60 burger? Only in Manhattan (or, maybe Tokyo).
The other night, I walked back into the kitchen at work in one of the finer French restaurants in Portland (our chef is a James Beard award winner), and the place smelled-no-reeked like a burger joint! Our bar menu has a hamburger on it, and I would say that it’s by far the most popular item. And not only are the customers consuming them—everyone, from the skinny cocktail waitresses to the unctuous managers—eats them on their break.
I guess that all of this surprises me because of the FACT (based on nutritional analysis, doctors warnings, etc. etc.) that fatty ground beef is detrimental to your health when consumed on a regular basis. And that vegetarianism, and veganism, and the increase in eating fresh food has grown. Maybe it’s a gustatory rebuttal to the cultural movement towards healthy eating, and widely released films like “Super-Size Me” and “Fast Food Nation.”
Yes, there might be something heartily (and heavily) satisfying about biting into a warm cheeseburger (though I can hardly speak to this, as I cannot remember the last time that I had one, but I think it may have been some time this summer). The burger is so basic—beef and bread, and maybe that’s comforting. In the chilly east, and here up north, there isn’t the widespread consumption (or availability) of sandwiches like there is on the west coast for grab-and-go eating. So, for that, they have the burger.
I find this all slightly disappointing, especially from restaurants which turn out so many other delicious, innovative dishes. It’s a bit of a sellout to make a burger, in my opinion, in order to feed Americans with an appetite for little else. And that’s just it maybe—it’s SO American.
When I moved to Portland, I made a friend with whom I’d try out different restaurants around the city. He was my foodie buddy. At one point, he was heading out on an East Coast trip to photograph cities he’d never been to (I think it was “6 cities in 7 days” or something). Anyway, he asked me “what do you think is the signature food of New Yorker?” I thought, “easy--the pizza slice.” And when he asked me about Oregon, suggesting salmon, I argued that no, it’s the burger.
I hadn’t seen so many burgers on so many menus, or heard so much burger talk in my life as when I arrived here. Two days ago, the Oregonian ran a story about the Midwestern fast-food drive-in chain Sonic, and it’s arrival and subsequent popularity here. The concept and the food (burgers and tater-tots) are a 1950s throwback, but somehow the chain is gaining momentum nationally. I find this disturbing, in the face of rising childhood obesity, and in spite of all of the knowledge that we possess of the nutritional values and health effects of food.
Burgers are even creeping into the arena of masterful ethnic cuisine. The aforementioned “Off the Menu” column mentioned a new burger place called “Stand,” opened by the same man who co-owns Republic (Asian soups & noodles), and Bond Street (sushi). And the restaurateur who ran Nirvana, a now closed high-end Indian restaurant, high above Central Park, is opening something called Nirvana54, serving Indian food AND burgers.
I guess, with their mass appeal, and relentless popularity, burgers will always remain in style, despite innovation and the availability of fresh, healthy food. Let’s face it—when models and actresses are asked what their favorite food is, the coolest ones answer “a burger and fries.” Whether that answer is truthful or not, we usually like them better for it.